« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
that the railways in course of construction would cost twenty-two millions more before they were ready for traffic. Heavy calls were made from time to time upon the holders of the shares to enable the works to proceed. The monetary pressure which had already set in, was thereby increased; shares fell in price; and the railway interest began to be severely discouraged. Railway extension was thus effectually checked for a time; and a sort of collapse ensued, which, together with the restrictions imposed by Parliament on the obtaining of new acts, placed a severe and indeed wholesome restraint upon speculation; and many of the most recent railway projects were consequently abandoned, or for a time lay dormant. Amongst this latter class were Mr. Stephenson's East and West Coast lines to Scotland, the Chester and Holyhead Railway, and the line from Leeds to Bradford. During the two sessions of 1838 and 1839 only five new railway companies obtained acts of incorporation. In 1840, not a single railway act was obtained; and in 1841 only the Hertford and Ware branch, 5| miles in length, was authorised; and even that was not constructed. In 1842 the Newcastle and Darlington Railway (part of the original Great North of England, which could not be completed for want of capital) was authorised under this new name; and in the same session, the Yarmouth and Norwich and Warwick and Leamington branches were authorised. The year 1843 was also a quiet railway session, only a few new branches of established lines having been then authorised; and it was not until 1844 that the tide of railway enterprise suddenly rose again, and in the following year fairly burst all bounds, breaking out in the wildest fury of speculation.
MB. STEPHENSON AND THE NEW SCHOOL OF FAST ENGINEERS.
The general demand for railways which sprang up shortly after the successful opening of the Liverpool and Manchester line, brought into existence a large number of engineers of great ability, distinguished by their practical skill and their high standing as scientific men. In this country of free industrial competition, no sooner does the demand for a particular class of talent arise, than it is supplied as if by magic. The laissez faire course of action adopted by the Government with reference to railways, though it led to much bungling and enormous expense, nevertheless gave full scope to the genius and enterprise of English engineers. So long as the prospect of dividends ranging from 8 to 15 per cent, was held out, there was to be found a numerous class of private capitalists ready to invest money in iron roads, and to find capital for the construction of new lines. Much rivalry thus arose, the engineers usually appearing as the leaders of the battle on opposing sides, when two or more lines were started between the same points. A considerable amount of personal feeling was occasionally evoked in these engineering contests, which were as often trials of individual ambition as of professional skill. Aspiring juniors sought to supplant their elder brethren at boards of directors, or to defeat their schemes before parliamentary committees; and many new men laboured to mature and bring out railway projects more striking and original than anything that had before been proposed.
Whilst continental governments, early recognising the great national advantages of railways, were appointing state engineers for the purpose of determining by preliminary surveys the most eligible lines of communication, leaving only the execution of the requisite works open to competition, the English Government left it to joint-stock companies to project and construct our national highways. The first step usually taken was the formation of a provisional committee, which at once proceeded to appoint an engineer to lay out the line, and a solicitor to constitute the company and agitate public opinion on behalf of the scheme. But the chief responsibility unquestionably rested with the engineer, who had to find a practicable road, to survey the line, to plan the necessary works — tunnels, viaducts, bridges, cuttings, and embankments,—to form estimates of the cost, and, above all, to be prepared to stand the cross-examination of his opponents before Parliament.
This keen competition of professional ability tended rapidly to develope the peculiar qualities of the English Railway Engineer. His experience, it will be observed, must necessarily be of an exceedingly varied character, to enable him to stand the test of the parliamentary crucible. He must be conversant with land-surveying and levelling, and have considerable practical knowledge of the strength and qualities of materials,—of iron work, masonry, tunnelling, and earth works. He must be something of an architect, a mathematician, and a geologist. He must also be familiar with the structure of the steam-engine and its application to the purposes of locomotion ; and he must have studied the principles of mechanical science, more especially the laws of gravity, friction, and momentum. Thus, the practical education of
the English Engineer included almost the entire field of natural science. Being often called upon to act in emergencies, he acquired a promptitude of action, and a facility in inventing expedients to meet difficulties as they arose, which gave him a commanding superiority over the engineers of the continent. The works on foreign railways being for the most part under the control of government, their engineers, though possessing the advantages of a much more scientific training, were trammelled and fettered in all that they did; and in cases of great practical difficulty, which required boldness and skill of contrivance, the English engineers — though they might, like George Stephenson, be entirely self-educated— were found greatly their superiors.
With all the wholesome rivalry and competition to which we have referred, and which tended to stimulate and strengthen their practical ability, there was a considerable admixture of jealousy and heartburning. It was long before Mr. Stephenson, notwithstanding the immense engineering works he had planned and executed, was recognised by the "regular" professional men as entitled to the status of a Civil Engineer. He had served no apprenticeship, and could show no indentures. Even the mechanical engineers connected with the manufacture of steam-engines regarded him as an interloper, denied him all merit, and pursued him with detraction in the pages of their " Mechanics' Magazine," long after the world had recognised his claims to distinction. This bitterness of spirit produced a similar spirit in himself; and he occasionally entertained a resentment towards his detractors which he could not and would not conceal.
The railway system, as established by Mr. Stephenson, was too new as yet to command that prestige which belongs to older institutions. It was but in its infancy; and the many able engineers who rose up naturally supposed it to be imperfect, and capable of vast improvement. The scientific professional men employed to survey the numerous new lines of railway which radiated in all directions from the metropolis, exerted themselves to improve upon Mr. Stephenson's plans, and thereby to enhance their own reputation. Indeed, they were sometimes twitted by the press for following so closely in the footsteps of the comparatively uneducated men who had gathered their experience in the Newcastle coalpits. Several of the new engineers therefore determined to be original. About the year 1838, they began to strike out many new lights, and to propound new plans, by way of improvement upon the Stephenson system.
These aspiring engineers did not want followers enough amongst railway speculators. In answer to the objections advanced against their plans, they cited the numerous predictions which had so recently been uttered against the practicability of working the locomotive itself upon railways. Give them an opportunity, and they would prove even the locomotive to be clumsy, and the existing system quite inferior to their own. And, indeed, so many " impracticable " and "impossible " things had within a very few years been proved to be both practicable and possible on railways, that the public became much less sceptical as to the plans of new projectors, and many were found ready to subscribe their capital for the purpose of bringing them into practical use.
Among the many novelties in railway engineering originated by the new school, the proposal of a pneumatic apparatus to supersede entirely the locomotive engine, was probably the most important. It was also proposed to adopt uneven railways, without much regard to gradients, as an improvement upon the flat lines so much insisted upon by Mr. Stephenson: this was scientifically designated "theundulating system." And some engineers, whilst retaining the locomotive as the tractive power, proposed to propel it at speeds which even Mr. Stephenson himself, sanguine and